Sleeping Dogs is the videogame equivalent of a high-end Steven Seagal movie, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The plot is riddled with ludicrous coincidences and stuffed to the gills with riotous action sequences, but it also hinges on a terrific core conceit; you’re undercover cop Wei Shen, and how far you stray from the
line of the law is always down to you. Grand Theft Auto is about that same conflict, but Sleeping Dogs is much more explicit about it; if you’re keen to impress your gangland superiors, you’re incrementally rewarded for anti-social behaviour. If you misbehave when you’re actively working for the police, that same unlawful behaviour is penalised, so the ideal way to play Sleeping Dogs is to fully embrace your character’s split-personality.
It never really forces you in either direction, but the cop missions definitely represent the game at its finest. Many of these assignments are fantastically adept at building tension, and tying mini-games into almost everything that you do – hacking security cameras, tapping hideouts – is one of the game’s smartest moves. Action games by their very nature aren’t brilliant at making you feel endangered, but trying to hurry through a wire-tap whilst your criminal compatriots mill around on the other side of an adjacent door, generates the kind of nervous pressure that you rarely feel in games of Sleeping Dogs’ ilk. Time constraints are generous but never too generous, and the mini-games themselves are easy to grasp but tough to master quickly; examples of appropriate, smart design.
Firearms are reasonably prevalent during the second and third act, but the action here is predominately about hand-to-hand combat. Taking its main cues from Rocksteady’s ‘Freeflow’ scheme (last seen in Batman: Arkham City) it’s about nailing counter attacks and – most enjoyably of all – using your environment to dispatch your assailants quickly. Inevitably the brawling isn’t quite as fluid and moreish as Freeflow (you can’t counter attacks with other attacks, for one thing) but it’s satisfying and distinctive nevertheless. Its garish vision of contemporary Hong Kong is also a vibrant and engaging place to be, but only on foot; the dearth of moving cars when you’re on the road occasionally makes it feel like an early-doors PS2 throwback.
Vehicle handling is arcadey and gratifying once you’ve adapted to it, and if you end up in a high speed pursuit, evasion isn’t your only option: you can ram your assailants off the road, Burnout style. Despite all of its influences though, Sleeping Dogs never buckles under the weight of them, and develops its own engaging, slightly ditzy personality long before the halfway point rolls around. If you’re looking for something to fill the gap until GTA V finally makes its debut next year – and you’ve already blitzed your way through THQ’s majestic Saints Row: The Third – then Sleeping Dogs will fit the bill very nicely indeed. Original it ain’t. Entertaining it most definitely is.
Sleeping Dogs is available now for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Watch the official launch trailer for Sleeping Dogs below: